A WIGAN man treated millions of armchair astronomers to an expert peek into the heavens.
Lawyer Bill Swalwell’s stunning photographic study of the Orion Nebula was shown on the BBC’s three-day ‘Stargazing Live’ planetary extravaganza.
Bill took the picture via a full-sized telescope thousands of miles across the other side of the world in New Mexico ... controlled from his home PC in Wigan.
A partner in the Wigan legal firm Stock Moran Swalwell in Market Street, Bill says that gazing into the skies at night via his 6ins telescope is the perfect way to escape from the pressures of working at one of the borough’s busiest criminal defence firms.
A former assistant coroner, the 54-year-old has been fascinated with astronomy for well over half his life.
Indeed the physics graduate is currently part of the way through studying for a degree in astronomy at the University of Central Lancashire.
He has been a lawyer in Wigan since 1981 - but has no plans to permanently alter his gaze from courtroom to the Milky Way and pursue a professional career in the science.
Bill said: “I used a company I found on the internet which allows you to book telescope time at observatories around the world. It sounds rather sci-fi but you can control the area of sky the telescope is looking at from your own home computer to take your pictures.
“I am part of a Flickr group and we were asked to submit them to an album for the Stargazing Live programme to consider broadcasting and I was lucky that they chose one of mine.”
Taking such a picture is something of a technical challenge. Even if the results are literally, out of this world.
Bill explained that is it a matter of taking a number of subframes and montaging them together to get the finished result.
In fact he took 18 three-minute subframes. Bill says the stunning finished result was the sum total of more than five hours work on his home computer.
He has completed a couple of courses in radio astronomy at Jodrell Bank in Cheshire, but admits that visual astronomy is more exciting.
He said: “It is very enjoyable getting out with my telescope on a clear night but like all of us who live in Wigan, we are always battling with light pollution which shows itself as a general glow.
“In certain parts of the country you can expect a viewing range up to six magnitudes but in Wigan these days it is down to three or less.
“There are no guarantees with astronomy on what you can or you can’t see on any particular evening, which is part of it’s fascination.
“I went for a holiday in Norway specifically to see the Northern Lights and over four days, I suppose we saw less than 10 minutes of action!”